First Friday Link Party for Writers – Beautiful Spring Edition

by Carol Tice – 16 Comments

Spring tulipsWelcome to spring!

This is the last day of spring break where I am at, so I’ll be hanging out with my kids and turning my blog over to you — the Make a Living Writing community of awesome writers.

This is your chance to get some exposure for your blog and make new connections.

You can link us to your best recent post about writing, blogging, productivity, marketing, work-from-home, work/life balance, or freelancing.

Then come back over the weekend to check out the rest of the blogs your fellow readers have shared and vote for your favorite! On Monday, the links reorganize to feature the top winners.

Instructions are below — enjoy the link party.


Why It’s Never Been Easier to be a Freelance Writer

by Carol Tice – 43 Comments

Freelance writer doing research on mobile phoneDo you feel like today’s freelance writing marketplace is just too difficult to break into? Too competitive for you to move up and earn well?

Well, I disagree. In fact, I believe there’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer.

You might be thinking: How can I say such a thing, in this era of the terrible economy (actually in steady recovery since late 2009)? When the Internet has put writers in competition with everyone who’s ever slung a sentence together anywhere on the globe? And when there are so many shocking low-priced gigs on offer?

For a perspective-setter, let’s contrast the freelance writing scene of today with that of the pre-Internet era. That’s the time period when I first broke into freelance writing, so I’ve got painful firsthand experience with how it used to be.

No, I’m not going to regale you with tales of how I walked three miles through the snow to turn in my articles to my editor. Mostly because I lived in California when I broke in.

But being a freelance writer was definitely a far more difficult process than it is today. Here are some of the ways life has gotten better for freelance writers:

Shoe leather vs Internet research

Then: When I wanted to find new magazines to write for, I got in my car and drove to the library. There, I headed for the reference section, where I could hunt for interesting publications in the Gale Guide. Long hours of leafing through Gale’s tissue-thin pages and hand-jotting contact information ensued.

Researching businesses was usually limited to companies you knew in your town, or read about in your local business journal. Or you could head back to the library and go through their publication archives. I have literally combed through the library’s stacks of phone books from other major cities to find phone numbers or addresses for businesses in other towns. Talk about a time-killer.

Now: Fire up your computer and tap the online edition of The Writer’s Market for instant updates on newly updated listings. Quickly sort by topic or which publications pay the best, and you’re in business.

Want to write for businesses? Your market research is sitting on your desktop — hit the Internet, compare local business’s websites, find the worst ones, and pitch. Or quickly look up major companies anywhere in the world and find contact information in a minute flat. Boom, you’re done.

In-person events vs social media

Then: Want to meet other writers or potential clients? Head on down to your local Chamber of Commerce and spend all night pressing the flesh — and more time the next day following up. More in-person meetings with prospects followed.

Now: Don’t have time to get out? No problem. Your writer website and LinkedIn profile can call out your areas of specialization and help the Internet send you prospective clients, 24/7. Join a few LinkedIn groups, or a writer community to make more connections. Tweet an editor an idea. Take a Skype call with a prospect and quickly nail down an agreement.

Editor gatekeeping vs online publishing

Then: Nothing got published without an editor’s blessing, and the number of publications was fairly finite. You submitted to editors and prayed. They were a hurdle you had to vault in order to become published.

Now: If you strike out with print publications, you can turn to the growing number of paying online markets. Not having any luck getting your ideas out there? Start up a blog and use it as a writing sample, or tap a content mill or bidding site such as Elance to find clients if you’re short on marketing time. Sure, rates might not be the greatest, but you can at least get clips fairly easily.

Outside control vs self-publishing

Then: As a writer, you either got a staff job or hustled freelance gigs. Getting a print book contract was another huge gatekeeping exercise with a few print publishers pulling all the strings.

You had one boss or many. But either way, your ability to earn was in someone else’s hands.

Now: Want to diversify your income and achieve independence? Build a website, draw an audience, and self-publish your own e-books on Amazon with the touch of a button.

SASE and xeroxes vs instant response

Then: Want to send a query letter to a magazine? This laborious process involved heading to Kinko’s to get copies of my print articles, purchasing big envelopes and small ones for that return rejection letter than often came, and then composing my query. Then the best part: Waiting three months or so to find out if the editor was interested in your work.

Now: For the vast majority of publications, you can email off your query with links to your online clips. Often, get a response within an hour, or a week. Cost: Free.

In-person meetings vs online meetings

Then: Businesses and magazines mostly worked with local writers because of how difficult and expensive it was to meet in person otherwise. If you had out-of-town corporate clients or magazines, you got on a plane or drove to meetings, killing days worth of productive writing time.

Now: Go after clients anywhere in the world, because you can meet virtually. Hop on Skype to chat, or use Basecamp or Google Drive to collaborate instantly on evolving drafts.

Stuck at home vs write from anywhere

Then: In the pre-mobile era, being out of town was a nail-biter. Who was emailing me? Who had called? Would my editor hear my voicemail and get my hotel fax number to send me the revisions she had?

Now: Mobile phones go with us everywhere and bring the Internet along. Use online tools such as GoToMyPC to tap into that desktop at home from your hotel’s business center, or bring your laptop and file a story before you even get home. On a recent trip, I helped an editor meet a print magazine deadline with edits I did while at the airport and in a cab.

Credentials required vs wide-open market

Then: In all my 12 years as a staff writer, I was always the one freak who was a college dropout. Everyone else seemed to have gone to Columbia or Medill. Or at least had an English degree.

Now: Then came blogging, and the ability for writers to prove their mettle without sitting through stultifying courses on the history of journalism. These days, I find, nobody cares if you learned your craft at Columbia or under a freeway overpass or from writing 1,000 blog posts on your personal blog. It’s a snap to show what you’ve got, and write your way to the sort of markets you want.

Writing conferences vs online training

Then: Want to learn about emerging issues in the world of freelance writing or take a class to improve your article-writing craft? You could buy a print book at a bookstore and try to suss things out on your own. Or maybe take a college extension class that would take months of in-person class time. Or you could invest hundreds to fly to a writer conference. Spend several days marooned away from your computer.

Now: Free online trainings abound! (Like the first session of Article Writing Masterclass that I made free to all comers in April 2014.)

For more, take a paid, in-depth course you can view online as your schedule permits — and review whenever you like for a refresher. Get instructor feedback without having to go anywhere via live Q&A calls and support forums.

 

Personally, I’d give anything to have become a freelance writer now compared with what a slog it was back then.

One thing hasn’t changed, though — you need the confidence to put yourself out there in a competitive marketplace. But there are so many more types of writing and ways to earn today. For anyone who’s got the moxie, it’s the Golden Age for freelance writers.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a freelance writer now? Leave a comment and let us know.

Article Writing Masterclass

How to Make Absolutely Sure Your Article Gets Killed

by Carol Tice – 15 Comments

Your article writing has been rejectedBy Linda Formichelli

I know you want your articles to get killed.

After all, success has its drawbacks. Your less prosperous writer friends may come to resent your article writing success. When your bank account is full thanks to your writing skills, you’ll become a target of unscrupulous telemarketers.

And you know the expression, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall?”

The big one is you, with your hit articles. And you’re gonna fall hard.

But don’t fret: I have five things you can do to make sure your editor kills your article so you don’t get paid and end up with all the troubles success can bring:

1. Under-promise, over-deliver.

You know the philosophy that you should under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?

You should definitely do that when it comes to word count.

When your article assignment is to write 1,000 words and you turn in 2,000 words, it creates all kinds of problems for your editor. She’ll need to comb through your article and decide which 1,000 words she can cut. After all, she has only so much space, so she has to make it fit.

Now, don’t get all wishy-washy on me and turn the extra material into a bonus sidebar. Just squish all those extra words in there and let your editor deal with it.

2. Be all business.

Editors love when writers can convey information in a fun, readable style — so be sure to write your article like you’re penning a master’s thesis.

The drier, the better. Cut out any humor that may have slipped into your article, and absolutely do not use contractions. Avoid showing even a modicum of personality. If you want your article killed, it should look like it was written by a robot…a robot that doesn’t speak English.

3. Be confident in your work.

When you get an assignment, your client will send you a little thing called an assignment letter, which details the specs of the assignment.

Ignore this.

If you want to get your article killed, for the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT re-read the assignment letter before turning in your article to make sure you included everything the editor wanted: the right word count, sidebars, and other details.

That way, when you turn in your piece, you can be sure you’re missing some important elements the editor wanted.

Mission accomplished!

4. Get friendly with your sources.

Editors expect you to beat the streets to come up with the very best, most relevant interviewees for your article. So your job is to just interview people you already know, like the neighborhood pharmacist, your Facebook friends, and your mom.

If those don’t work out, over-rely on source-finding services like ProfNet and Help a Reporter Out, using whoever happens to respond — and whatever you do, do NOT check out the sources you get from there to make sure they’re credible.

After all, you wouldn’t want to make your friends jealous with your success, would you? I didn’t think so.

5. Be an expert.

In journalism, in most cases the writer is not the expert. The writer is the writer, whose job is to interview experts and weave the information together into a coherent story.

So if your motive is a killed article, you need to be sure your editor knows you’re an expert in the topic of the piece.

That means not interviewing other experts. (I mean, you know it all already, right?) When the editor asks you for backup on your facts, tell him you’re the backup. And whenever you get the chance, inject your opinion into the article.

Those five tips should be enough to ensure success in your mission — which is NOT to have success in your writing. And if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to resort to scrawling your articles in crayon on bar napkins.

Have you ever had an article killed? Post in the comments and tell us what happened.

Linda Formichelli writes the Renegade Writer blog. Her new class with Carol Tice is Article Writing Masterclass.

Article Writing Masterclass

One Writer’s Success: 2 Paying Gigs With Zero Writing Clips

by Carol Tice – 19 Comments

Freelance writer got the gig with no clipsBy Craig Baker

Every writer in history has stood at the starting line, pen and paper at the ready, eager for that big story that is going to launch them into freelance writing success.

But if you don’t have any professional writing clips — published articles — to give an editor when looking for your first writing assignment, it can make you feel a bit like the freshman serving punch at the senior prom. All you want is to get to the other side of that counter.

How do you go from wearing the server’s bowtie to owning your own tux in the world of writing?

Frankly, I don’t know yet. I’d say I’m somewhere in the tux-renting phase of my freelance writing career.

But I can tell you firsthand that clips will only get you so far. The rest is actual hard work.

My first clip came when I was fresh out of college; I sent an 800-word guest opinion to our local afternoon newspaper as it was spiraling down the print news drain into non-existence. Lo-and-behold, it was accepted.

The same paper took another piece from me a month later, though they printed a grievous error in the headline and then promptly went out of business.

Well crap, I thought. There went that.

Resurrecting my writing career

It was three years before I tried again. I opened my ears to what was happening in my city until something struck me as interesting, and then I pounced. It wasn’t a groundbreaking idea, but it was an idea. Specifically, it discussed various ancient Native American artifacts that can be found strewn throughout my hometown.

Though I’d been warned against writing a piece before shopping it around, that is precisely how I tackled the no-clips issue. I went ahead and wrote the article.

I wrote about 1,200 words on the subject (my best guess for the average length of other local articles based on a little cutting and pasting from the web into Word), did some research on query letters, and sent a pretty standard script out to the editors of every local publication I could find.

In my email, I told the editors I had stumbled on a neat little story about artifacts, there was a local organization tied to the information (I had a source), and I had guest opinions published in the extinct newspaper.

I sent the article out with my messages, and tried my best to forget about the whole thing.

Within a few days, two of the maybe ten editors I had queried sent responses, and to my surprise, one of them said yes.

The editor that accepted the piece told me that it was what he called “evergreen” (my first introduction to that industry term for an article that can run at any time because it has no urgent news hook). He would save the article until he needed one for filler.

Not the instant-clip-and-recognition I was hoping for but, six months later, it turned into a $100 paycheck.

The second editor rejected the piece outright but apparently appreciated my writing style enough to assign me an altogether different article for an upcoming issue of her magazine. Score! Two clients came from my one spec article.

Building on my success

As I waited for the rush that came with seeing my work in print, I knew I had also gained:

  • two publications I could continue to pitch, and
  • a stronger bio for pitches — I could say I had work pending with two publications.

Once the articles were published, I was able to use my small portfolio of local samples to land jobs with bigger, higher-paying clients within weeks.

My new clients included a $2,000-plus-royalties contract writing content for a video game development firm and an ongoing writing position with a language learning company for $0.25 per word.

I haven’t stopped since.

Putting in the work

What does all of this mean to you?

Simple: if you don’t have a clip, make one. If you don’t know how, learn more about article writing.

Learn about your target publications. How long are the articles? How long are the paragraphs in those articles? The sentences?

Are the pieces written in the first or third person, generally speaking, or do the writers use the “we” so common to alternative publications? How many sources does each article quote, and on which side of the story’s argument do these sources stand?

Preparing yourself with this sort of basic knowledge before you start writing will make sure that even your unpublished pieces are as close as possible to the real thing, which may just get you a second look from someone that calls the editorial shots. Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet—you’ll never publish an idea if you don’t send a query.

How did you get your first clips? Tell us in the comments below.

Craig Baker is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Ariz., and shares author advice on his blog, Starting from Scratch.